Cooking Pasta and Domestic Arguments

Okay, my wife does (or more often, makes me do) something while cooking pasta that drives me up the wall.

After the pasta is done cooking, I’m supposed to run cold tap water into the pot of hot water for a couple of seconds before dumping it in the strainer. Natch, this is difficult as I am holding a heavy pot of near-boiling water. I reason that this short burst of cold water is only going to drop the overall temperature of the water/pasta mix by a dozen degrees or so, whereas dumping it straight into the strainer will cool it much more quickly. She reasons it makes the pasta better and that’s the way her mother did it.

Who is out of their nut here?

What is the “proper” way to cook pasta?

capn “the wife just has to be wrong” futile

I’ve heard that running it under cold water for a few seconds stops the pasta becoming sticky. I have tried it, and I can attest that it does stop the pasta being sticky. Can’t find a cite for this at the moment though, but it works in all my pasta based recipies.

If it is any help I spent last summer a Roma at language school and lodged with a “struggling actress”. Now I thought I was a decent enough cook of Italian food before I went out there but I noticed that SHE too ran cold water into the pasta pan before draining to stop it cooking further.

Guess it preserves the al dente texture but like you I would have thought it pretty marginal a difference. Maybe too “that was the way mother did it” for he?

A small sample I know but authentic at least.

You throw a hot noodle at the 'fridge.

If it bounces off, not done yet.
If it sticks on there forever, it’s overcooked.
If it sitcks for a moment, and then falls, it’s al dente, and ready for the cold water treatmemnt.

My wife is Italian, and she throws a kettle of boiling water over the pasta, once it is in the strainer - apparently to wash off the excess starch (???), this prevents it from sticking together.

A tiny drizzle of olive oil over the pasta will also prevent it from sticking together particularly important with certain shapes - such as “Conchiglie” and “Rigatoni” - or you may end up with massive lumps of pasta. MMMmm

Hope that helps.

If your pasta is sticking together, you’re cooking it in too little water. Put it in a larger pan, or add more water to the pan.

I don’t know about adding cold water to the pasta - my WAG is that it simply cools the pasta quickly, making it stay cooked at the level it was when you took it off the stove. I personally prefer my pasta hot, and remove it from the stove accordingly.

I don’t think so Athena. My flatmates pasta was served perfectly hot, especially when tossed with the sauce. The idea was to take the temperature down enough to avoid the pasta continuing to cook in it’s own latent heat and thus reaching the table overcooked.

You’re dead right about lots and lots of water being the trick to avoid it sticking without having to rinse once drained.

Why don’t you get a stock pot and pasta strainer? Just lift out the strainer and place it in the sink to run cool water and keep it from sticking.

One of my favorite cookbooks recommends never rinsing the pasta with water, cold or hot. Yes, it makes it less sticky going onto the plate, but the thing is, that excess starch gives the sauce something to “grab on to”. Then the sauce will lubricate the noodles and allow them to be pulled apart more easily. The effect is a lot nicer than rinsing the starch off the noodles and then adding the sauce.

Try a side-by-side comparison sometime and you’ll see what I’m talking about.

I’m gonna vote on the stopping the cooking thing. My pasta doesn’t seem to stick together with rinsing. But it is stickier than not rinsing. But rinsing makes for crappy, restaurant style pasta whereby the sauce doesn’t stick to the pasta. Try convincing your wife not to rinse for a single time. Sauce stays on the pasta and doesn’t slither off.

Of course, depending on the type of pasta, this may be no big deal.

Agreed. I should have made clearer perhaps, the cold water goes in the cooking pot before draining. No cold rinsing. No rinsing period if you use enough cooking water in the first place.


Hmmm… MsWhatsit beat me to that with an even better description. Multiple tabs on the SDMB really change the meaning of simulposts. :slight_smile:

I never rinse my pasta with cold water after cooking. Reason being, it rinses off the starch which contains thiamine…one of the health benefits from pasta. I always cook pasta al dente and one way my mother taught me to ensure that it comes out right is to watch the pasta carefully, when the water begins to turn a little cloudy remove one noodle and bite into it. it should be firm, but the center should not be white. If the center is white it needs another minute or two. When it’s done pour into a strainer then mix with whatever sauce you’re going to use. Dumping into the strainer is sufficient for preventing any further cooking. It’s all my opinion but this method hasn’t failed me yet. :wink:

Why put the whole pot under the tap? Have a pitcher of cold water on hand. Safer.

Now am I correct in gathering that the reason to add cold water to the pan is to prevent the stuff from ending up overcooked? Am I missing something in thinking that it’s much, much easier to achieve this goal by taking it off the stove sooner than by adding cold water to the pot?

The “that’s how my mother did it” rationale reminds me of the story of the lady who always cut the ends off of a ham before putting it into the oven.

A bizaare and unreliable practice that results in a slimy refrigerator. :slight_smile: Why not just taste test?

There is really no substitute for proper cooking techniques and your own senses. A timer is your friend with pasta. With a little practice, you can determine how long you need to cook different types to achieve proper consistency.

Plenty of water to cook in, along with a small dollop of olive oil in the water (to help prevent boil-over and sticking pasta) goes a long way. Stir a few times during the cooking process to break up anything stuck together. Drain, return to the pot to evaporate any excess moisture, and sauce promptly. If you need to set the drained pasta aside for anything over a couple of minutes, toss it with a small amount of olive oil or melted butter.

I’m with Athena. When lurking around restaurant kitchens, I’ve never seen anyone put water, hot or cold on pasta, but then those guys are in a hurry and worried about HOT hot food hitting the table.

A well-known chef once told me that if you have to try and cool something, you’ve burned it and you should start over. We were talking about candy, but he said it was a universal rule. He was also busy being the big man so who knows if this is really his philosophy.


Someone named “chefguy” who recommends putting olive oil in the pasta pot during cooking? You are killing me dude…absolutely killing me…how’s it going to absorb the sauce when it’s coated with oil?

My second prep job out of c-school was at an Italian restaurant…the exec chef was PSYCHO about pasta prep…yes, he was Tuscan…it goes with the territory I’m told…

His rules of thumb…they work…this place (St. Louis Italian landmark) prints money.

  1. use a big pot…pasta sticks during cooking because it comes in contact with each other…less contact…less sticking…you don’t need oil…

  2. Very hot water, always a rolling boil…we had gas burners with 4 inch clearance…they had two settings for cooking pasta…off and raging…if the water is raging…you won’t need to stir the pasta except to get it to fall down in the pot…the boil action will do it for you

  3. salt the water until it tastes like the sea (ocean for Americans) it adds flavor to the pasta…we also used sea salt for the pasta prep at restaurant…I use kosher at home…it doesn’t make that big of difference to me and sea salt can be expensive

  4. Cook the pasta one minute less than recommended for each 4 minutes recommended on the package…For example…penne that Barilla says should cook for 10-12 minutes should cook for 8 minutes in the water (of course you can always taste it to see the cloudy center mentioned earlier…but the 1 to 4 minute method has never done me wrong at home)

  5. Take the pasta directly from the pot to the sauce. The sauce should be made/warmed in a sauce pan (crazy concept isn’t it?) not a pot. If you want to use a strainer, I recommend an in-pot strainer…but at the restaurant…we used tongs…with practice, you can grab a single pasta serving with tongs in your sleep

  6. Toss the pasta with those tongs in the sauce for one minute…if you want to add, parm, olive oil, parsley, red pepper flakes…etc…do it now…

  7. Lift the pasta, now sauced with the tongs into the bowl…DO NOT dump the pasta into the bowl…you always get too much sauce…if it’s too dry with the tongs…you will have leftover sauce in the sauce pan…spoon it on top of the pasta

The only time we rinsed our pasta was for cold pasta salads and stuffed pasta (so we wouldn’t burn our fingers during piping)…you do this immediately after completing the cooking time in the boiling water to stop the cooking process to not overcook the pasta.

If you go to sucky Italian restaurants and you look in their kitchen and see millions of plastic containers (they look like mesh tubes with hooks) lying around…that is because they pre-cook their pasta then finish it off in raging hot water, then dump it in the sauce…it’s impossible to time this correctly and it doesn’t work…the pasta gets rubbery.

Some more of my random pasta thoughts:

–I can’t recommend any American dried brands…they taste like nothing…Barilla is good…decechio (or something like that) is better (and I’ve seen them both in Kroger’s, Marsh, Food Lion, etc.)

–My favorite sauce…browned butter, fresh sage, capers, lemon squeeze and parm…well rinsed anchovies melted with the browned butter also work…as well as some crushed red pepper


P.S. (As I proofread my post…I feel compelled to do this to not come across as an a-hole…) I’m not trying to flame anybody above…everyone’s suggestions are good…cooking isn’t a right/wrong science…it’s definately an art (although you get a degree in Culinary Science when you graduate…but I digress)…which is why I love it so much…but with any art…there are fundamental things that one can do to get themselves to a point where they can maximize their benefit out of that art. So if you make your pasta a different way than detailed here…and you love it…you’ve maximized your benefit…good for you. That’s the whole point. But with any skill…the more you do it…typically the better you get…thus, my post.

Bye…have a great week.


I had no idea that “ocean” was an American term and “sea” was a (presumably) European one. Is this true?

Why yes. All of us wankers on this side of the Atlantic Sea have no respect for the proper use of “ocean.”

That just doesn’t sound right. :frowning:

On the other hand, it’s possible the advice is such that we don’t confuse sea men with semen.